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We Are Jewish Women, Hear Us Roar: New Coalition Begins Lobbying for Israel

It’s a women’s thing, too.

That’s what a new coalition is saying about lobbying for Israel.

One Voice: Jewish Women for Israel, a broad-based coalition involving several major American Jewish women’s groups, is working to increase — and, in many cases, launch — women’s involvement in pro-Israel activism.

In June, a coalition-run phone campaign organized women across the country to “Take five and take to the phones” and call members of Congress to thank them for standing with Israel, urge continued support of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and express concern for the rise in anti-Semitic acts around the world.

Now the coalition is gearing up for a second phone-in on Sept. 18, this time aimed at the White House.

Callers are being asked to thank President Bush for his support for Israel — and note that both Americans and Israelis have been the targets of terrorists and that America should not tolerate the incitement against the United States, Israel and the Jewish people in the Arab world.

“It’s an incredible opportunity for women to be empowered,” said Madeleine Brecher, one of the coalition’s coordinators.

“After five minutes, thousands feel that they have done something,” said Brecher of New Jersey, who is national vice president of the National Council of Jewish Women, one of the groups involved.

Organizers don’t know exactly how many women participated in the last call-in, but they say it was successful.

When Debbie Buls Kahn of New York participated in the phone campaign in June she felt it was her way of telling her senators and representatives that their support of Israel is important.

Kahn, whose daughter is studying in Israel this year, plans to participate in this month’s campaign as well.

“Every woman should call,” she said.

The coalition was established earlier this year by Blu Greenberg, a longtime Jewish feminist activist and president of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.

Greenberg, also of New York, says women’s groups that oppose the Bush administration’s pro-Israel policy are well-organized and that the Jewish community was not utilizing women and their desire to help.

“Women are a force,” Greenberg said. “We wanted to show our solidarity and identity.”

Greenberg got an “instantaneous” positive response from Jewish women’s groups — and in what she calls “a record in Jewish history” the coalition, its name and its general goals were hammered out in two hours.

The coalition’s leaders believe the work has gone smoothly because women realize how vulnerable Israel is at this time.

The agreement on the message is an important statement to the Jewish community, said Adena Berkowitz, another coalition coordinator.

“Too often in the Jewish community we focus on divisions,” said the board member of the Orthodox Feminist Alliance. “The coalition works through consensus — ‘What we can all agree on’ and ‘What can we do to help Israel.’ “

The coalition’s members include: American Jewish Congress’ Commission for Women’s Equality; AMIT; Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America; Jewish Women International; JOFA, The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance; NA’AMAT USA; National Council of Jewish Women; Women of Reform Judaism; Women’s American ORT; Women’s Branch of the Orthodox Union; and Women’s League for Conservative Judaism.

Coalition members said they did not want to duplicate efforts. So it is sticking primarily to political activism, and staying away from helping terror victims and Israeli businesses.

In promoting the upcoming national call-in day, the coalition is asking women to distribute a call-in action guide to their rabbis and asking them to announce the event from the dais during Yom Kippur.

Also, women are encouraged to forward the information over e-mail and encourage friends or family members to call.

The coalition is planning a leadership lobbying day Oct. 31 and a possible follow-up lobbying day for more women as well.

If everything goes well, what about the future? And will it include men?

Coalition leaders are not ruling anything out. Since the coalition operates by consensus, all the member organizations get to float ideas for the entire coalition to discuss.

Possibilities include coordinating activities on college campuses, organizing a concerted campaign to educate the media about Israel’s position, and working within the feminist community and with other women’s faith groups.

The range of opinions and positions within the coalition has only helped the group’s work, according to Greenberg.

“In coalitions you usually take two steps forward and then a step backward,” she said. “Here, mostly there have just been steps forward.”

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